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Starkites, a Dominican Republic based company, was purchased four years ago by technical engineer and entrepreneur Eric Vimont. Since then, Eric has moved the base of operations over to the US and divides his time between Cabarete, Florida and Brazil as he works to develop the company into a worldwide brand under the new name Star Kiteboarding. We caught up with Eric in Brazil to find out what Star has in store for 2015.
Star has its roots in the Dominican Republic, and as a result what are the advantages/challenges of starting out in the Caribbean? Indeed, the brand originated 8 years ago from legendary Cabarete which helped a lot for its development. While there, we found amazing wind and waves and excellent riders to test our gear all year long. We have been challenged to change the image of our brand from a local caribbean to an international company although we want to keep alive the flavor of where Star comes from. We are now based in Miami to develop the north and South American markets, starting of course with the local South Florida market where we now have a strong market share.
The Dominican Republic has been churning out some very talented riders in the past few years. Being formerly based there, does Star have any programs that help to groom local talent or help them get into the sport? It is actually a difficult task as the average riding level is so high now and there are so many great talented kids that could transform into the very best riders in the world. We do have a Star kite school which provides work and guidance on how to develop a career as a kite instructor, which we think is a more secure long term strategy for young riders who want to make a living from their passion.
How does your R&D process work and does Star follow industry product release cycles? We are designing our kites with a French designer who has over 10 years of experience in the field. If we feel a product is ready for market or have tweaked it for improved durability or performance, we will typically start shipping a few months before the new year. For instance, our 2015 products started shipping mid- September and customers will be able to purchase in october.
How can North American riders demo or purchase Star Kites? Is customer service and warranties handled here or overseas? Apart from South Florida and Corpus Christi (Rocky Chatwell Kite School) where we have dealers in place offering demos, we don’t have other dealers in the USA at this point but of course are looking to expand. We believe in the retailer network and don’t support direct sales. We now have around 400 riders in the USA, which is still a small number but growing nicely, and most of these riders are naturally ambassadors. Often, they are very happy to share with others the “different” brand they use, as they appear as a novelty wherever they ride. So when you meet a Star rider don’t hesitate to ask for info or to try out his or her gear!
The Taina is Star’s bestselling kite. Now in its 4th year, did you change anything for 2015? Yes indeed our best seller by far is the Taina, giving us a direction of almost a one-model kite strategy! the universal Taina is for 99% of the rider as it excels for freestyle, freeride, wakestyle and in waves. For 2015, we added a large inflation valve and some reinforcements on the lateral struts to make it even more bombproof.
Star made some minor tweaks to the third generation Arawak, your freestyle machine in 2014. Were any changes made to the 2015 model? We are actually postponing the production of the Arawak 2015 as we are working on a new shape to replace it which we hope to release sometime next year. The new kite will be something in between the Taina and the Arawak.
Star brought the Elite Bar to market in 2014. Any changes for the New year? Yes many changes. The Elite Bar V2 is coming with a clam cleat for depower (no more straps), very clean all protected center line (X2) including the leash line (which guarantees amazing durability), and a stopper on the two center line system. We also have very nice molded bar ends this year in orange and white with a super comfortable grip.
As one of the ‘smaller’ brands in the industry, what is unique about Star and what are your challenges? Our buyers are clearly not “followers” as they are constantly reminded “but why did you buy Star?” The answer resides simply in the fact that our riders are mostly open minded, able to really test a kite (have enough riding experience) and realized that our kites are around $600US less than many other brands for what we believe offers the very same product quality and performance–if not better in some aspects! The only thing missing is obviously the capital injection for branding.